Canadian Folklore: Attack of the Mammoth
Updated: Dec 26, 2022
Today's post is something that I really like looking up, and that is folklore/myths. I thought this was a very interesting myth in Canadian history. With origins in British Columbia, The Attack of the Mammoth is a Kaska First Nation story retold by S.E. Schlosser in the version that I found.
I have included the entire myth in this post.
A man and his family were constantly on the move, hunting for beaver. They traveled from lake to lake, stream to stream, never staying any place long enough for it to become a home. The woman sometimes silently wished that they would find a village and settle down somewhere with their little baby, but her husband was restless, and so they kept moving.
One evening, after setting up camp on a large lake, the young mother went out to net some beaver, carrying her baby upon her back. When she had a toboggan full of beaver meat, she started back to camp. As she walked through the darkening evening, she heard the thump-thump-thump of mighty footsteps coming from somewhere behind her. She stopped; her heart pounding. She was being followed by something very large. Her hands trembled as she thought of the meat she was dragging behind her. The creature must have smelled the meat and was stalking the smell.
Afraid to turn around and alert the beast, she bent over as if to pick something off the snowy path and glanced quickly past her legs. Striding boldly through the snowy landscape was a tall, barrel-shaped, long-haired creature with huge tusks and a very long trunk. It was a tix - a mammoth - and it looked hungry. She straightened quickly and hurriedly threw the meat into the snow. Then she ran as fast as she could back to camp, dragging the toboggan behind her. Her little baby cried out fearfully, frightened by all the jostling, but she did not stop to comfort him until she was safe inside their shelter.
She told her husband at once about the terrible mammoth that had stalked her and taken the beaver meat. Her husband shook his head and told her she was dreaming. Everyone knew that the mammoth had all died away. Then he light-heartedly accused her of giving the meat away to a handsome sweetheart. She denied it resentfully, knowing that he really believed that she had carelessly overturned the toboggan and had let the meat sink beneath the icy waters of the lake.
After her husband went to set more beaver nets, she prepared the evening meal. While it was cooking over the fire, she walked all around the camp, making sure that there was an escape route through the willow-brush just in case the hungry mammoth attacked them in the night.
The husband and wife lay down to sleep next to the fire after they finished the evening meal. The husband chuckled when he saw that his wife kept her moccasins on and the baby clutched in her arms. "Expecting the mammoth to attack us?" he asked jovially. She nodded, and he laughed aloud at her. Soon he was asleep, but the woman lay awake for a long time, listening.
The wife was awakened from a light doze around midnight by the harsh sounds of the mammoth approaching. "Husband," she shouted, shaking him. He opened his eyes grumpily and demanded an explanation. She tried to tell him that the hungry mammoth was coming to eat them, but he told her she was having a nightmare and would not listen. The wife begged and pleaded and tried to drag him away with her, but he resisted and finally shouted at her to begone if she was afraid. In despair, she clutched her little child to her chest and ran away from the camp.
As she fled, she heard the harsh roar of the giant creature and the sudden shout of her husband as he came face to face with the creature. Then there was silence, and the woman knew her husband was dead. Weeping, she fled with her child, seeking a village that she had heard was nearby. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, she heard the thump-thump-thump of the creature's massive feet stomping through the snow-fields, following her trail. Occasionally, it made a wailing sound like that of a baby crying.
The woman kept jogging along, comforting her little baby as best she could. As light dawned, she saw a camp full of people who were living on the shores of an island on the lake. She crossed the icy expanse as quickly as possible and warned the people of the fierce mammoth that had killed her husband. The warriors quickly went out onto the ice and made many holes around the edges of their village, weakening the ice so that the mammoth would fall through and drown.
As evening approached, the people saw the mammoth coming toward them across the ice. When it neared their camp on the island, the creature plunged through the weakened ice. Everyone cheered, thinking that the animal had drowned. Then its large hairy head emerged out of the water and it shook its long tusks and bellowed in rage. The mammoth started walking along the bottom of the lake, brushing aside the ice with his large tusks.
The people panicked. They screamed and ran in circles, and some of them stood frozen in place, staring as the mammoth emerged from the ice and walked up onto the banks of the island. The wife of the eaten man fled with her baby, urging as many of her new-found friends as she could reach, to flee with her. But many remained behind, paralyzed with fear.
Then a boy emerged from one of the shelters, curious to know what was causing everyone to scream in fear. He wore the bladder of a moose over his head, covering his hair so that he looked bald. He was a strange lad, and was shunned by the locals. Only his grandmother knew that he was a mighty shaman with magic trousers and magic arrows that could kill any living beast.
When the boy saw the hungry, angry mammoth, he called out to his grandmother to fetch the magic trousers and the magic arrows. Donning his clothing, he shook his head until the bladder burst and his long hair fell down to his waist. Then he took his magic bow and arrows and leapt in front of the frightened people and began peppering the beast with arrows, first from one side and then the other. The mammoth roared and weaved and tried to attack the boy, but the shaman's magic was powerful, and soon the beast lay dead upon the ground.
Then those who fled from the mammoth returned to the camp, led by the poor widow and her baby. The people whose lives had been saved by the bladder-headed boy gave a cheer and gathered in excitement around the boy. In gratitude, the people made the shaman their chief and offered him two beautiful girls to be his wives, though he accepted only one of them. The widow and her baby were welcomed into the tribe, and a few months later she married a brave warrior who became close friends with the shaman-become-chief.
And from that day to this, the people have always had chiefs to lead them, and no mammoths have troubled them again.
For me, I'm not sure how much truth is actually in this myth. However, it is totally possible for a mammoth to be present depending on how old this myth is because the last mammoth was gone 4,000 - 10,000 years ago roughly. They went extinct on the mainland 10,000 years ago but persisted in small populations on islands away from humans until roughly 4,000 years ago.
What are your thoughts on this myth?
Do you think there is any truth to it?